President's Column February 2019

Shalom. As I write this, it is nearly zero degrees out on a cold January day. Time to stay inside, hibernate, and do nothing until the dreary days pass.

Well, no. Actually, it’s time to come to TBT and be cheered up with activities and warmed up spiritually. TBT does not hibernate in the dead of winter. We light Shabbat candles and create a space where you can step back from the week in order to reflect, relax, and enjoy the company of fellow congregants in the sanctuary and at an oneg. Perhaps even sponsor an oneg in February! (Call Bonnie in the office to arrange that.)

Also, every other Saturday, there is Mindfulness and Meditation at 8:00 a.m.—and weekly Torah Study on Saturdays at 9:00. What better way to escape the doldrums of February. Well, some would say they prefer TBT’s weekly Mah Jongg on Fridays at 1:00. Better yet, wake up your mind and lungs by joining the TBT Choir, which practices Wednesday evenings. Contact the Cantor about joining—no auditions or special talent required. Do all of this and, before you know it, spring will be here.

February will also be special because Cantor Stanton will lead services with the help of many congregants this month, as Rabbi Offner will be on her month-long Sabbatical. I know you will enjoy learning and praying with the Cantor.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column February 2019

When you receive this SHOFAR, I will be away on a one-month sabbatical.

This being my 7th year at TBT, I can see the wisdom of the Torah, which teaches that the 7th year is a time for taking stock. While most sabbaticals are typically several months long, the Board and I are in full agreement that given the very full schedule of events at the synagogue, it is best to break up any sabbatical time into smaller parts. I therefore will be spending this month of February on sabbatical.

My best fantasy is to use the time for “R & R” – that is, READING and Relaxation. I have a book list that would take longer than a month but I am so grateful to have the time to dive in. Most of my reading list will serve to enrich my Adult Education teaching, and I would particularly invite you to consider, if you haven’t yet done so, enrolling for the April segment of my year-long Hartman Institute Course in “Jewish Values and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.”

If you can’t take the course, you might want to join in a couple of the reading assignments: ISRAEL: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis, and Once Upon A Country by Sari Nusseibeh – to get just one important Israeli view and one important Palestinian view of the conflict.

Before I leave for sabbatical, my most important priority is to assure coverage for the congregation during the time that I will be away. Cantor Stanton and I have been meeting and going over all the details. He will be in charge of all clergy needs and I am glad to say, as you have seen in the past 7 months now, how very capable he is. I know he is ready and eager to step forward to cover for the month and I thank him deeply for that.

Of course, leading our congregation is a team effort and so I also want to thank our Administrator, Kim Romine, who loves our temple second-to-none, and cares for it constantly, always with zest and gusto. Administrative Assistant Bonnie Mahon is also stepping up and making sure that everything is seamless, as always.

I thank TBT President Jeff Babbin and the Board of Directors who have supported my having some time for spiritual replenishment. I want to assure you too that I am only a phone call away and that Jeff, the Cantor and the staff will be able to reach me if need be.

The months go by quickly; I am sure that I will be back in what will seem like a flash. At the same time, I hope something of this sabbatical will last forever.

Todah Rabbah – and see you in March, Rabbi

President's Column January 2019

Shalom. In my capacity as President, I recently attended the annual December orientation program for the students, and the parents of the students, who are about to embark on their b’nei mitzvah training in 2019. Even without a student of my own at this gathering, it was a fun event to attend, bringing back memories of my own daughters’ journeys to Jewish adulthood. Plus, I got to witness the advances TBT has made in teaching “trope” to the b’nei mitzvah students, making them all lifelong Torah readers.

The Rabbi asked me to speak to the parents on the topic of “parent engagement.” Of course, the parents are highly engaged in the b’nei mitzvah program, but the Rabbi meant something broader – parental engagement in the life of the synagogue, to act as role models for their children in their commitment to Jewish lives. That necessarily requires treating b’nei mitzvah studies as not just a milestone to check off a list, but as a springboard to a deeper commitment to communal Jewish life. A central feature of Judaism is its embrace of a sense of peoplehood, of a gathering of a community of Jews as the best way to experience life to its fullest.

So, to that end, I thought that I would share with the entire congregation the words I spoke to the parents of the upcoming b’nei mitzvah students one Sunday afternoon in early December. I am reprinting my talk here verbatim:

“TBT runs on the fuel of congregant engagement, including parent engagement. We have professional clergy and office staff – but, in the end, the congregation runs on the strength of its members’ commitment and support. And that includes engagement with the TBT community – from attending and bringing your children to services, volunteering for Mitzvah Day and class dinners, participating in activities like Habitat for Humanity, and helping TBT committees such as the education committee, social justice, and religious activities, among others.

“Your children certainly take note of the level of your engagement with TBT. I was hesitant to become president when my children were still in the house – and while I am now an empty nester, I am so glad I started my presidency with my twins at home, able to see my commitment to TBT, so I could model the importance of the synagogue to our lives. And now that they are in college, they have pleasantly surprised me by their involvement with their college Hillel programs and involvement with Jewish activities at school.

“We, as parents, are all role models. That also includes remaining as members of TBT following the bar or bat mitzvah, as Judaism is a lifelong pursuit, and supporting the presence of a Jewish congregation on the shoreline is an important way of showing that the bar or bat mitzvah is not the end of Jewish learning and engagement, but only the beginning.

“Thank you, and mazel tov on your child’s upcoming bar or bat mitzvah.”

Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column January 2019

As I think about the state of Israel and the state of Zionism today, I am reminded of that old joke about the 3 elderly folks who are sitting on the beach talking. One says: “Oy.” The other says “Oy vey.” The third says: “Oy vey iz mir.” Finally, they get fatigued from the conversation and agree spontaneously: “Enough talking about the children!”

These days, the punch line could be: “Enough talking about Israel.” Most conversations about Israel today are about Israel’s tsuris. (troubles). Yes, Israel has plenty of troubles. There is anti-Zionism on the left and on the right. There is anti-Semitism on the left and on the right. There is an occupation of the Palestinian people that has been going on now for over 50 years. There is a military build-up of those who would destroy Israel in lands that border Israel: in Gaza, in Lebanon and in Syria. There are those in America who seem to equate Israel with ‘the devil himself.’ And there are those in America who see Israel as the very vehicle to Heaven.

Against this backdrop, life in Israel is bustling and thriving. The foodie scene is very big. By all means, do see the movie In Search of Israeli Cuisine. Medical research in Israel has led to miracles in cancer treatment and calls that an actual cure for cancer is in reach within the halls of the Technion and Ben Gurion University. Israeli start-up companies have created methods to purify and re-use water that have recently been used now in California. Paraplegics have stood and walked once more because of the Israeli invention of a robotic exoskeleton machine.

There is a lot of diversity of opinion about who Israel is and what Israel should be. Remarkably, there is no more diversity of opinion on the subject of Israel than there is within Israel itself. Just take a look at the Knesset on any given day.

Temple Beth Tikvah is a synagogue where diversity of opinion should flourish. I cherish all opinions and viewpoints about Israel. At the same time, I cherish our common ground, which is our love of Israel, our attachment to Israel and our desire to stay informed and engaged.

To that end, I encourage you to join us this month of January in an exploration of Israel and the Jewish Values that undergird this Jewish state of ours. We meet in the sanctuary from 12-2pm on Wednesdays in January. Be a part of the conversation.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column


As the days get shorter, the month of December at least brings us the Festival of Lights, our eight-day celebration of Chanukah. TBT will bring our families together for dinner (with latkes!), a group menorah lighting, and the Shabbat festival service on Friday, December 7. This will certainly lift the spirits of everyone on a cold December evening.

Chanukah also acknowledges the renewal of the Jewish people and the rebuilding and dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Here at TBT, we are engaged in our own rebuilding project, to take this temple of Jewish life on the Connecticut shoreline and keep it thriving and serving all of our needs. Those members who came to either of our two Building Renovation Project congregational meetings in November were able to examine a detailed model and hear the specific plans for how our temple will fulfill TBT’s mission in the years to come. For those who could not attend, we will be posting the presentation online very soon, if it hasn’t already been done by the time you read this.

I also want to encourage all members who are able to do so, to donate to our 5779 Annual Fund, bridging the gap between our budgeted needs and what we collect from members’ pledges each year. The Annual Fund is what enables us to open our temple doors to the entire Jewish shoreline community regardless of means and ability to pay our full pledge amounts. We celebrate the perseverance and strength of the Jewish people during Chanukah, and the TBT Annual Fund is what gives us the ability to serve our entire local Jewish community and help it prosper.

Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

As we descend deeper and deeper into the darkness of the month of December, we would be wise to consider this deep, dark lesson: words can kill. We have been surrounded by demonstration of this deep, dark truth.

The horror of Pittsburgh still lingers in our throats. We can wish it away with the rationale that it was ‘one lone individual,’ but that violent act was made in a context. The shooter was targeting Jews and he was specifically targeting Jews for coming to the aid of immigrants. Every time we hear ugly words about Jews or immigrants, every time we see Nazi swastikas, we must take these actions seriously and speak out about them. These are words and messages that lead to violence. These are words that are an invitation to do harm.

Surely we are not fanatics. Not us. But every time we let violent words pass, without countering them directly, we are aiding the cause of extremists.

December is indeed a dark month. But soon we will light the candles of Chanukah to combat that darkness. This year, there is a particular custom on Chanukah that addresses our fears of rising anti-Semitism. The Talmud instructs that we are to light the menorah “in order to publicize the miracle of the holiday.” It became the tradition to light the menorah in a window, so others could see it. The notion that we are to be vocal about who we are, allowing all to see, was a step in nurturing pride rather than hiding our true selves from others.

This Chanukah, may we be extra clear about who we are and what we do. May we be extra vocal when we hear antiSemitic words or words that defame any group of people. May the words we choose combat the darkness of December.

To a sweet festival filled with light.
Happy Chanukah,
Rabbi Offner

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

The major Jewish holidays of the autumn season are now in the past, but we can look forward to two wonderful holidays in November. Though they are admittedly not Jewish holidays, they are most certainly holidays that we embrace and observe wholeheartedly as Jews.

Two holidays in November, you say? What could they be? Thanksgiving is obviously one of them. The other – a personal favorite: Election Day. Yes, I think it is right to call Election Day a holiday. In fact, it is such an important day that I don’t think it would be wrong for the U.S.A. to make it a federal holiday. Make sure to vote on November 6.

I am keenly aware that as I write this “November” column, we do not yet know the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. But shortly after this SHOFAR is in your hands, we will indeed know the outcome. I don’t know if you will be excited or disappointed, surprised or dismayed. But I do know one thing: whatever the results of the election, we will continue to do the work that needs to be done. No matter who is in elected office, we will continue to work unceasingly to make our world a better, safer, more peaceful planet.

And as we head towards Thanksgiving, we should all pause and remember to be thankful that we live in these United States of America. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to remember those first pioneers who came to this country by boat. No, I don’t mean the pilgrims who travelled on the Mayflower, I refer rather to the Jewish pilgrims who were also fleeing religious persecution and came to these shores in the hopes of a better future. Twenty-three Jews came to the United States from Brazil in 1654 and settled in New Amsterdam.

Our numbers have swelled from 23 in 1654 to 5.8 million Jews in America today. That is less than 2% of the population of the United States, but it is still the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and almost equal in number to Israel. Fully 80% of the world’s Jewish population now lives in either the U.S. or Israel.

May we continue to flourish in this country, and may we always contribute to the flourishing of our country.

Chag Same’ach – to a good Election Day and a blessed Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column

Sept. 18, 2018 (Kol Nidre service)

Shana Tova.

I am speaking to you today in our sanctuary, or at least our extended high holiday edition of one. What is a sanctuary? It is, of course, a sacred place, a place to worship. But I think all of us feel a sense of something even greater when we come together in our sanctuary. A place of comfort and safety and connectedness, away from the daily din of the news of the day, replaced with the steady tones of time-honored traditions that feed our spirit and connect us to our Jewish community both locally and around the world.

Some houses of worship in Connecticut have become literal sanctuaries, housing longtime members of the local community who are subject to being deported, as a sanctuary is one place where the government’s hand has traditionally not reached. While we haven’t made use of our facilities that way, it shows that a religious institution’s building is more than four walls and a roof; it is a place infused with the human spirit to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others around us.

When a group of us, led by Rabbi Offner, venture to Poland, Vienna, and Prague next spring, we will gain an even deeper appreciation of the importance of sanctuary, and of the blessing we have living the lives of American Jews. Thankfully, the U.S. continues to be a welcome haven for Jews and Jewish families. But we can never be complacent. In a recent march in Charlottesville, chants included the slogan “Jews will not replace us.” Even in Israel, within the Jewish community, we have seen a Conservative Rabbi arrested for performing a non-Orthodox marriage ceremony. And there’s the controversy in the U.K., where the leading candidate to be the next British Prime Minister has been called an existential threat to Jewish life by a joint statement from a broad spectrum of Jewish leaders in that country.

TBT’s founders created a communal Jewish life here on the shoreline of Connecticut, making Madison, Guilford, Clinton, and other surrounding towns a welcome place for Jews to live. We have all built on that foundation, and our Rabbis, including Rabbi Offner, have built strong bridges to people of all faiths on the Shoreline. TBT’s members and clergy have worked hard to be a beacon for Jews looking for community, worship, and knowledge in this neck of the woods.

TBT has become a sanctuary for those looking for inner peace—with mindfulness and meditation classes, along with Torah Study—and outer peace—with our social justice committee helping the hungry and marching in protest against gun violence. A sanctuary for those looking to study (with lunchtime seminars with the Rabbi), and to play (with Friday mah jong), and to examine the human condition (with an engaging set of Jewish or Israel related films in our annual film series). A place where everyone is welcome. We are strengthened by our diversity of backgrounds, interests, and perspectives.

In order to maintain our spiritual and emotional sanctuary as a place to make those connections, we also need a physical sanctuary that supports our mission.

A lot will be happening in the coming year as many dedicated volunteers among our members work to ensure that our “house of hope,” our Beth Tikvah, is in a building that is inclusive, accessible, and supports the values in our mission statement of tikkun hanefesh (enriching our lives) and tikkun olam (improving the world). Reform synagogues nationally have adopted a principle known as audacious hospitality, to be welcoming in all we do.

Adding an elevator so all of our members and guests can go from the main floor to the lower classroom wing will make us more welcoming. This need was well illustrated when, last December, our 40-year old aging pipes broke and we had no main-floor bathrooms just as we had a guest speaker recovering from hip surgery who struggled to go down the stairs to the lower facilities.

Adding an awning so those waiting for a car don’t get wet will make us more welcoming. And the Rabbi, Cantor, and I could have used that awning when greeting you after last week’s Rosh Hashanah morning service in drizzling rain.

Adding live streaming of our services for congregants unable to attend in person, to hear the Rabbi’s sermon, or view a funeral service, will make us more welcoming.

Expanding our parking area so we have a drop-off loop to avoid children dodging moving cars, and to avoid the High Holiday shuttle being stuck in the line of cars waiting to park—or dispensing altogether with the need for a shuttle—will make us more welcoming.

Making the sanctuary bright with natural light and views of the woods, making the social hall more desirable for b’nei mitzvah celebrations, and allowing us to all face East with our yearround ark on the High Holidays will make us more welcoming.

Replacing an entire air conditioning system so we can stay comfortable and not continue to inject into our aging system a chemical refrigerant that will be banned by federal law in two years will make us more welcoming.

A welcoming congregation also embraces all members regardless of personal and financial circumstances. We want all shoreline Jewish families to be part of our collective endeavor. We can only do this thanks to the generosity of those members who contribute each year to our Annual Fund, above and beyond their annual membership pledge. We will shortly be kicking off the new year’s Annual Fund drive.

None of these improvements and initiatives are possible without the time, energy, and expertise of our members. Our members allow us to fulfill our mission. And our members are essentially our only source of revenue.

Membership is more than a listing in a directory or high holiday tickets. It is even more than access to our wonderful religious school, now headed by Cantor Stanton. Membership is a dedication to the idea of a thriving Jewish community on the shoreline, relationships with our experienced, talented clergy for pastoral care and life-cycle events, deepening one’s knowledge of and connection to Judaism, and social relationships with old and new friends.

Your continued membership is what makes TBT thrive and allows it to be here to support all of us when we need that support.

The Rabbi, in her Rosh Hashanah morning sermon, told us that the Hebrew word for “member” is derived from the word for “friend.” I know that I’m not alone in counting many of our members as my good friends. But membership goes beyond personal relationships. Our collective friendship from our membership at TBT is what makes this place a sanctuary, a safe and meaningful haven for all of us. And when the strength of our physical home reflects the strength of our spiritual home, we are ensuring that TBT will be able to continue its mission for decades to come.

On behalf of our Board of Directors, myself, and my family, we wish you a sweet, healthy, and productive new year. G’mar Tov.

Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column

Dear Friends,

What a glorious High Holidays we experienced at TBT. It was truly a house of prayer. I still have so many images that float through my mind: the music, the Torahs, the people, the choir, the flowers, the buzz, the energy, the participation, the tears, the laughter, the life.

So much life was packed into our sanctuary. You brought your hopes and dreams and we nurtured them and cultivated them. I hope that there was enough there to sustain you during the entire year ahead. Even when we are not all together. Especially when we are not all together.

This is TBT at its best, an entire community coming together to achieve holiness. That is why I prefer to refer to these days as the High “Holy Days” more than the High “Holidays.” Holidays and Holy Days are different. Consider these words, adapted from the writing of Rabbi Sidney Greenberg:
“On holidays, we run away from our duties; on holy days, we face up to them. On holidays, we seek to let ourselves go; on holy days, we try to bring ourselves under control. On holidays, we try to empty our minds; on holy days, we attempt to replenish our spirits. On holidays, we reach out for the things we want; on holy days, we reach up for the things we need. Holidays bring a change of scene; holy days bring a change of heart.”

So many of us rose up to help in this grand endeavor, this pursuit of holiness. From the moment we were greeted by John Lesage and his Parking Crew, we knew it was a holy day. Just think of all the others: the Board Members who welcomed us into the synagogue, Bruce Topolosky who offered a beautiful sermonette, Bennett Paul and his team who magically host a gorgeous spread of a Break-theFast, our Shofar Blowers: Eli Sherer, Jen Silva , Steve Eppler-Epstein, and Samuel Kaplan. That choir! Wow! Walter Stutzman on the piano. And speaking of music, waiting with baited breath as our new cantor opened his mouth to sing his first notes. Would he? Could he? And the answer came: a profound YES! How perfect that we will gather again in short order to officially install Cantor Stanton as OUR cantor.

Then there is Kim Romine, who is absolutely everywhere to help with every single request. Bonnie Mahon graciously responded to the phones ringing off the hook. Judy Merriam, who hosts a spectacular Tashlich, this year especially as she so creatively made it happen for us all even in the pouring rain. Our Religious Activities Committee, making sure so many had special honors of readings and aliyot (a special shout-out to Heide Mueller-Hatton and Lisa Leventhal). Our Torah readers and Haftarah readers! Our Usher Captain, Doug Agranov, and Ushers Jonathan Levine, Dick Whelan and Al Goldberg. How many years running, now??? Our on-call doctors: Ben Tolchin, Karen Goldberg, Lynda Rosenfeld and John Foggle.

Our Children’s Programs, run by Kate Rothstein – with Suzy Frisch making everything work like clockwork -- were as smooth as could be. A big shout-out to SALTY, our fabulous youth group, to Casey Goldberg and to Rabbi Polly Berg. And our children! How about that Oseh Shalom? Tina Silidker and Sarah Mervine and our Social Justice Committee, making tikun olam a reality distributing bags and col- lecting food for those in need.

Best of all: all of you. You came, you brought your hearts and your souls, and you changed us for the better. To a continued good year ahead. May 5779 surprise us, beyond expectation, with goodness.

With love and admiration,
Rabbi Offner

President's Column


The High Holidays are right around the corner, and once again our clergy, staff, and member volunteers are hard at work to prepare meaningful and memorable services for our congregation. Mishkan HaNefesh, our Machzor for the High Holidays, can still be referred to as our “new” prayer book despite a few years of experience with it – but it remains fresh and engaging, with new surprises each year.

Plus, it will seem all that much more original this year in the hands of our new Cantor, Mark Stanton. Many of you have met him this summer, including at our two wonderful Beach Shabbats – but others will meet him for the first time. Get ready to be impressed. I am already anticipating hearing his trained operatic voice sing the opening words of Kol Nidre.

This will be my second year as TBT’s President, and I continue to be amazed by the variety of ways that TBTs members bring our synagogue to life. Our new Board is already engaged to ensure the vitality and fiscal health of our community. One of our goals for the coming year is to make use of the resources of our Reform umbrella organization, the Union for Reform Judaism, including its teaching tools on leadership development and synagogue governance.

The energy and wisdom of our lay leaders, working closely with our clergy and staff, are what make our synagogue work for so many people. It is my hope for the coming year to ensure a solid foundation on which to build our future.

Jeff Babbin